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  • Writer's picturekjrusseth

Young Hearts, Old Souls: The Silent Strength of "Petite Maman’s” Young Protagonist

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

After immersing myself in the world of "Petite Maman", I found myself profoundly moved by the film's portrayal of grief, family dynamics, and the emotional depth of its young protagonist. Céline Sciamma wonderfully captures the universal longing for connection and the unspoken subtleties of intergenerational relationships.


The young girl's journey to make sense of emotional and generational issues serves as a poignant representation of a child's need for secure attachments. John Bowlby's Attachment Theory reminds me that, just as in the relationship between the little girl and her grieving mother, early attachment can shape our emotional futures. Despite her young age and developmental stage, our protagonist is resilient, has empathy, and expresses an emotional wisdom beyond her years. Despite the stressors and grief the family is undergoing in the present, somewhere in her life, this child had a 'good enough' mother, as Donald Winnicott's parenting concept suggests.


Yet, as the story goes on, we must consider the weight of responsibility this little girl carries in her efforts to support her mother. And perhaps more so, the weight of responsibility the girl's mother had in her efforts to support her own mother. This element of the story is reminiscent of Alice Miller's writings, emphasizing the dangers children face when they suppress their own needs to care for a parent. As the little girl delves into her mother's past, real or imagined, the world she constructs can be seen as a therapeutic space, a realm where she can process her feelings and seek validation, aligning with the concepts of Self Psychology from Heinz Kohut.


But what of the young girl's future? The film leaves us pondering the emotional toll of her experiences and underscores the importance of supportive figures stepping in to ensure she receives the care and acknowledgment she so selflessly offers to others.


In the end, "Petite Maman" does not merely entertain; it invites introspection. Rather than simply being a film about family or fantasy, it serves as a mirror, encouraging viewers to reflect on their own relationships, histories, and emotional journeys.


The movie trailer can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=1RUU7Oj7qx0


I had the privilege of leading a small discussion after the recent showing of this brilliant and touching film at the University of Wisconsin Union South on Saturday, October 7. For those interested in immersing themselves in other cinematic gems, I highly recommend checking out the event calendar at the University of Wisconsin Union South, https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/.

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